The Best Winter Activities for Families
These action-packed winter adventures will help cure your family’s cabin fever in no time!
If you happen to find yourself at Buffalo Lake on Feb. 8, you might catch a glimpse of a giant cat or a colorful jellyfish soaring through the sky, thanks to the Kites on Ice Festival! Colorful and invigorating, it’s just one way for families to enjoy winter while exploring the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro region’s many lakes, parks, rinks and hills primed for sledding and skiing. So grab your scarf and hat, bundle up the family and get ready for your best winter yet!
1. Shred Some Powder
Three Rivers Park District offers downhill skiing and snowboarding at Maple Grove’s Elm Creek Winter Recreation Area and Bloomington’s Hyland Hills Ski Area. Elm Creek has a lighted tubing hill as well. For bigger challenges, head to Burnsville’s Buck Hill, where Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn once trained, or hit the Afton Alps, where 50 trails carve through nearly 300 acres overlooking the St. Croix River Valley at Hastings. All these sites offer lessons for newbies, as well as chalets with steaming drinks for family members who prefer watching over whooshing.
2. Celebrate All Things Winter
From Jan. 31 through Feb. 2, you can enjoy three full days of cross-country ski races at Minneapolis’ legendary 2020 City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival at Theodore Wirth Park. Visitors can also cheer on or try their hand at fat-tire bike racing, snowshoeing, dogsled races, a Kubb tournament (similar to cornhole) and skijoring (a single dog pulling a skier). Stick around after dark on Saturday night for a luminary spectacle and live music.
That’s not the only festival fun going down at Theodore Wirth Park this winter. The Fastenal Parallel 45 Winter Festival takes place March 14-17, put on by the Loppet Foundation in conjunction with the U.S. Ski Team. The festival will feature live music, craft beer, citizen races and other exciting events. If you only go for a day, make it March 17. It’ll be the first time in two decades that the world’s best cross-country skiers compete on American snow, when they face off in the 2020 Coop FIS Cross Country Ski World Cup Sprint Finals.
3. Explore a Winter Wonderland
Round up your crew and get outside to experience winter’s unique beauty together — from lacy patterns in the ice to the eerie sounds of freezing rivers. Fort Snelling State Park — which hugs a lake and the Minnesota River as it meets the Mississippi — offers wintry activities such as snowshoe clinics, winter birding and ice fishing. Some go-to hiking spots include the Mississippi River Greenway with trailheads like Simon’s Ravine Trailhead in South Saint Paul, Swing Bridge Trailhead in Inver Grove Heights and Lower Spring Lake Trailhead by Spring Lake Park Reserve. And make sure to visit Theodore Wirth Regional Park for a host of winter activities, including cross-country skiing, ice fishing, tubing, sledding and more. Or take a stroll over the historic Stone Arch Bridge, made from local granite and limestone.
4. Lace Up Your Skates
Enjoy a free lesson and skate rental during Wells Fargo WinterSkate, part of the Destination Winter Saint Paul event at CHS Field, or during Wells Fargo Mpls WinterSkate at Minneapolis’ Loring Park. Other ice skating options include the 10 acres of skating along the connected ponds of Edina’s Centennial Lakes Park; Maple Grove’s Central Park Ice Skating Loop, which meanders for 810 feet; and Roseville’s Guidant John Rose MN Oval, North America’s largest outdoor refrigerated skating facility. Or you can head to Bloomington for Mall of America’s Skate the Star event.
5. Bundle Up for Festival Fun
Saint Paul Winter Carnival, the nation’s oldest winter festival, kicks off Jan. 23 and runs until Feb. 2. Signature events include the Vulcan Victory Torchlight Parade (Feb. 1), the Vulcan Snow Park (every day) and Family Day (Feb. 1)!
Also from Jan. 23 to Feb. 2, you can catch The Great Northern Festival, which combines the Saint Paul Winter Carnival, the City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival and the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships for a festival trifecta.
6. Keep an Eye to the Sky
Looking for a short hike and maybe a little bird watching? Head to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in Bloomington. Not far from Mall of America, this tucked-away spot offers workshops on bird behavior and guided birding expeditions that help families spot swans, geese, eagles and wintering songbirds that gather in the trees and along the water near Bloomington’s Bass Ponds or Shakopee’s Wilkie Unit trailheads. Don’t forget your binoculars and camera!
7. Marvel at Ice Formations
Head to Minnehaha Falls Regional Park to marvel at the icicled beauty of a 53-foot waterfall frozen for the season. As one of the most popular parks in Minneapolis, you and your family will also find a dog park, disc-golf holes and plenty of places to sled.
8. Tap Into Your Wild Side
Amble through Saint Paul’s Como Park Zoo & Conservatory — home to the Polar Bear Odyssey, an Arctic fox, reindeer, wolves, gorillas and more — as you weave through indoor and outdoor exhibits. The popular Conservatory is filled with palm trees, spice bushes and seasonal flowers.
Apple Valley’s 485-acre Minnesota Zoo takes visitors on outdoor trails past snow monkeys and bison, through an aquarium with penguins and monk seals, and into a multi-level tropical habitat with exotic birds, gibbons, tree kangaroos and nocturnal creatures.